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Using Critiques: To Revise or To Forge On

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A schoolmate wanted to know if she should go back and make all of the suggested revisions to the first couple of chapters of her story, or just set the critiques aside and continue writing. Here was my response:

Reading the critiques and putting into practice what you’re being taught is very important. But don’t get caught up in the mentality that you have to go back and correct everything before you can move forward (unless you have to trash absolutely everything and start over fresh). Read the critiques, take a couple of days to process them, read them again, and then move forward with your story, putting into practice the techniques, skills, rules you learned from that round of critiques.

My thesis novel is my fourth completed manuscript, and the first one that took me longer than 9 months to write (I wrote my first full in nine months, #2 in seven months and #3 in four months). I started Happy Endings, Inc., in July 2003. In September, I hooked up with a couple of girls at the ACFW conference and we decided to become critique partners. This was the first time I ever received serious feedback on my writing style, technique, voice, characters, plot, and so on. I had written almost ten chapters up to that point. Based on my crit partners’ feedback, I went back and started rewriting those ten chapters… so by the time I started at SHU in June 2004, I had twenty chapters… the first ten chapters in two versions. Then I started at SHU and submitted the first chapter for workshop critique at residency. Based on the feedback received from that, I started another revision of those ten chapters. By January 2005, I had thirty chapters… yep, three versions of the first ten chapters of the book. But then I had an epiphany. What if, instead of George Laurence just being someone Anne had to work with who was making her life difficult while she planned a wedding for her ex-fiancé, she was having to work with this difficult person but didn’t know she was planning the wedding for her ex-fiancé? So I spent the first month of the spring 2005 term writing four or five chapters in that vein… all the while trying to put into practice everything I was learning about the craft and trying not to use the word “as” too much so my mentor wouldn’t ding me on it.

But then, after completing Chapter 15 for the first term deadline last spring, I had another epiphany. What if Anne not only didn’t know she was planning her ex-fiancé’s wedding, but she also thought George was the groom? Yes, I went for the Shakespearian hidden identity plot. At that point, I could have stopped and gone back to rewrite the first half of the novel with that plot. But I was afraid if I did, I’d never finish. So instead, I wrote a 2-3 page synopsis of the beginning of the novel and picked up in chapter 16 and powered my way through the end. So by May 8, 2005, I had a “complete” first draft, almost two years after beginning it. By then I was so tired of it, I was ready to throw it aside in favor of the new story I’d just started, Ransome’s Quest. But taking several weeks “off” from HEI, from the day term ended until I had to start working on a second draft for the fall term, and immersing myself in William and Julia’s story helped me gain perspective on HEI. I also realized that I couldn’t just leave it like it was, a wounded puppy needing someone to nurture it and help it grow into a “best in breed” (no, I haven’t been watching Westminster, just seeing the ads for it). I had to take these three different pieces – Chapters 1-10, Chapters 11-15, and Chapters 16-27 – and revise it into a cohesive story.

So that’s what I did last term. By October 27, I had a complete second draft of HEI, one I was pleased with enough so that I gave copies of it to my mother and grandmother for Christmas.

This term, going through and making revisions based on critiques from last term has been a breeze! All because I powered through and didn’t allow myself to go back and get caught up in the write-revise-rewrite-revise loop.

It’s a lot easier to just sit down and write straight through when you’re not receiving feedback and getting ideas or questions from other people reading it. But, having a “complete” manuscript before getting caught up in revisions has worked much better for me.

  1. Carol Collett permalink
    Thursday, February 16, 2006 8:24 pm

    That’s the premise of a group I belong to at The thought is to just write the first draft while the idea is fresh-revise later. It seems to work better for me. My WIP even starts out in first person, then I decided to try third person limited, then went back to first. I’m just keeping the story going…not revising the POV of the already written parts.



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